WLW fiction author Kat Jackson discusses her writing process during quarantine and how she wrote her new novel Across the Hall.
We all went through it: the abrupt shift in our daily lives in March 2020. Some shifts were gentle while others were seismic; some brought unearthly, unpredictable pain while others were shrouded in confusion. Others still simply existed on a day to day basis, a drastic change tempered by having to continue to get up every morning and go through motions that softly echoed life prior to the shift.
My overall shift was somewhere in the mess of all of that. As a high school teacher, I was thrust into teaching from home, which is something no college course could have prepared me for. The very core of teaching is building and maintaining relationships with students; when the world shut down, so too did my ability to engage with the kids in my classroom. I won’t get into the boring specifics of what “teaching” (necessary quotes, trust me) looked like for the last three months of 2020’s school year, but trust me when I say it was one of those aforementioned seismic shifts.
When that professional ground split open beneath me, however, it brought with it something new, something entirely unexpected.
Once I unlocked the resistance, the story came. I’m not kidding: It was that easy.
Suddenly, I had all this time. Copious amounts of time, unhindered by professional responsibilities, undisturbed by meddling colleagues, uncommon and unusual. And it was an unknown, this magical landslide of time.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. But Kat, don’t teachers have endless time over summer breaks? Mmhmm, yes, we sure do, but the dirty little secret of summer break is this: Teachers spend all that time recovering from the hell-storm of the previous school year. I could write an entire book about this, but for now, just trust me. This quarantine-pandemic concept of time was brand new, and also a bit overwhelming—and not at all like summer break.
In the beginning of the spring quarantine, I spent a lot of my new time working out, and avoiding writing my WLW stories. This is fairly typical behavior for me, doing the painful thing instead of the thing I love. I wanted to write, absolutely, but I was holding myself back… as usual. Again, not new behavior. Perhaps now you’re thinking, wow, Kat, you should really talk to a therapist about this. One step ahead of you there, thank you very much! It was actually my therapist who said to me, “Just start writing,” and because I do sometimes listen to people, I did.
And once I unlocked the resistance, the story came. I’m not kidding: It was that easy. I simply sat down one evening, opened my laptop, and started typing. This had never happened to me before, so naturally I was freaked out and questioned the entire process, but the more I allowed it to happen, the more comfortable I became. Across the Hall unfolded; it took over my brain in a way I’d never expected before, and even on days when I didn’t feel like writing, I found myself jotting down ideas, plotting chapters, working through conflict. I was immersed.
When I reported back to my therapist, animatedly explaining and questioning this bizarre success, she laughed and said, “You’re doing it. You’re living the life of a full-time writer.” Through my computer screen, I gawked at her. What in the hell was she talking about?
It clicked later. (It always does, when I’m ready, because let’s not forget how stubborn I am.) All that time was a new opportunity. I still had a full-time teaching job, yes, but I was at home, not submerged in the usual teaching life. Instead of hustling to get to work on time Monday-Friday, I was waking up leisurely, looking at endless days with practically zero responsibilities to fulfill. The world was at a standstill; I couldn’t even guilt myself about not going out with my friends. All I could do was be at home with my brain, heart, imagination, and laptop.
I let writing become my full-time job for the spring of 2020. I wrote Across the Hall in a ridiculously short amount of time because I had the time. I was able to write about WLW teachers because I wasn’t actively in the trenches; I was existing in a strange parallel universe where I was writing about my actual life that I wasn’t currently living. Instead, I lived my teaching life through Caitlin and Mallory. They came to life in their classrooms, their attraction growing over basic teaching tasks and covert workplace flirting. Their snags and stumbles reflect the ins and outs of a teacher’s world—but I’ll never confess to how much of their story is actually true.
When I reported back to my therapist that I’d finished writing an entire book in a matter of 53 days, she was suitably excited and proud. I had the same feelings, combined with a healthy combination of awe, shock, and confoundment. Had I actually done that? Somehow, yes, I had. Time had been on my side, and I’d welcomed it with open arms… once I got past that usual bout of resistance and self-doubt, of course.
I’m still getting used to calling myself a writer, an author. This pandemic-quarantine existence has nudged me toward a new level of comfort with those labels. They’re labels I want, after all—labels I have chased after since I was eleven years old. I’m learning that the act of living the labels brings a combination of pain and love because writing itself is an act of painful love, loving pain. It’s a journey, one as unpredictable as life was in 2020. And like everything else worth having, that journey takes time, be it six years or 53 days.
Whatever the length or circumstance, trust me one more time: embracing the gift of time is always worth the journey.